Salvation Army worker given donation of gold

Coral Gables -- “This Gold nugget is a family keepsake,” read the note dated Dec. 22. “Please use its value to help those in need with The Salvation Army. A Friend.”

So reads the only clue into who donated a gold nugget worth thousands of dollars at a Coral Gables Publix days before Christmas.

It was placed in the hands of Lorraine Momberger, a 37-year-old single mom who recently moved to from the Panama City area to South Florida looking for new opportunities.

This was the third year she worked as a Salvation Army bell ringer.

On Wednesday, she was bell ringing outside a Publix when a woman making a donation dropped some change on the ground.

Don’t worry, she told her, I’ll get it for you.

As she reached down for the coins, Momberger felt another person shove something into her hand. When she stood up, the person was gone, and Momberger had a small plastic sandwich bag in her hand.

There was something golden inside, which Momberger figured probably was a piece of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Or maybe it was trash.

Until she opened the bag and read the note

“I was in shock the whole entire day,” she said. “This can’t be happening. It’s not real.”

Momberger immediately called a supervisor. She worried about keeping the nugget safe. Round and lumpy, it didn’t fit in the kettle.

About the same time, a call came into the Salvation Army’s Miami offices.

When the woman at the front desk answered the phone, an anonymous caller said that she had just dropped off a gold nugget at the same location, said Judith Mori, director of development for the Miami-Dade Salvation Army. The woman at the front desk called Mori.

“It’s true,” Mori recalled telling her. “The bell ringer just called me to say the same thing.”

Salvation Army Capt. Bruce Williams, who overseas the area including Coral Gables, picked up the nugget and had it appraised, Mori said. He was told it has a value of $2,800.

Momberger said she didn’t get a good look at the person. She thinks the woman waited until she was distracted to give her the nugget.

The nugget is part of an uptick the Salvation Army said it has seen the number of valuable objects being dropped into kettles. Often, these donations are anonymous, which means that, on top of parting with a valuable object, the donor can’t claim it for a tax exemption, Mori said.

In Miami, before the nugget, donations were down 22 percent compared to last year, Mori said. The nugget probably will help make up some of the difference.

“We’re really glad that we got that donation,” Momberger said. “We really needed it this year.”